pennsylvania infantry

Portrait of Union drummer boy George D. Howell who served with Company H of the 23rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War, c. 1860′s.

Civil War Hardtack
This cracker was a Union soldier’s main ration. Popularly known as “sheet iron crackers,” they were notoriously difficult to bite into and chew. Unlike leavened bread, hardtack was quite durable and would keep for a veeeerrrry long time. This cracker was signed by two soldiers of the Eighth Pennsylvania Infantry and kept as a souvenir of their service.

Lieutenant George W. Mullen, Captain James H. Walter, Lieutenant George W. Wilson, first row.

Sergeant William Cline and Sergeant Nicholas G. Wilson, second row, of Co. G, 138th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment in uniform with swords, at Relay, Maryland

Forms part of: Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress).-  Forms part of: Ambrotype/Tintype photograph filing series (Library of Congress).

Meet Mary Tippee, or Mary Tebe, a vivandere with the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry, whose unit was led by Collis Zouaves. Women in this position were responsible for working in canteens and carrying water, brandy, or wine for the soldiers. In traditional vivandere fashion, Tippee is pictured wearing the uniform of her company, with a knee-length skirt over the men’s pants. Ca. 1863. Attributed to Charles J. and Isaac G. Tyson. Tipton Collection. National Archives Identifier: 520205

Amputation In The Civil War- Staphylococci, The Blood Stream And Death

Photograph shows portrait of Corporal Michael Dunn of Co. H, 46th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, after the amputation of his legs in 1864, the result of injuries received in a battle near Dallas, Georgia, on May 25, 1864.

Photographed by Hope, successor to M.H. Kimball, 477 Broadway, New York.

After Antietam, for example, 22 percent of the 8,112 wounded treated in hospitals died; but after the Battle of Gettysburg one year later, only 9 percent of 10,569 died. Despite that, an editorial writer in the Cincinnati Lancet and Observer noted in September 1863 that ‘Our readers will not fail to have noticed that everybody connected with the army has been thanked, excepting the surgeons….’ Infection threatened the life of every wounded Civil War soldier, and the resulting pus produced the stench that characterized hospitals of the era. 

When the drainage was thick and creamy (probably due to staphylococci), the pus was called ‘laudable,’ because it was associated with a localized infection unlikely to spread far. Thin and bloody pus (probably due to streptococci), on the other hand, was called ‘malignant,’ because it was likely to spread and fatally poison the blood. Civil War medical data reveal that severe infections now recognized as streptococcal were common. 

One of the most devastating streptococcal infections during the war was known as ‘hospital gangrene.’ When a broken bone was exposed outside the skin, as it was when a projectile caused the wound, the break was termed a ‘compound fracture.’ If the bone was broken into multiple pieces, it was termed a ‘comminuted fracture’; bullets and artillery shells almost always caused bone to fragment. Compound, comminuted fractures almost always resulted in infection of the bone and its marrow (osteomyelitis). 

The infection might spread to the blood stream and cause death, but even if it did not, it usually caused persistent severe pain, with fever, foul drainage, and muscle deterioration. Amputation might save the soldier’s life, and a healed stump with a prosthetic limb was better than a painful, virtually useless limb, that chronically drained pus. Antisepsis and asepsis were adopted in the decades following the war, and when penicillin became available late in World War II, the outlook for patients with osteomyelitis improved.


Carte de Visite of an Unknown Bride c 1861

This carte-de-visite or photograph of an unidentified woman in a wedding dress was found on the Gettysburg battlefield by Samuel Griffiths, Company H, 29th Pennsylvania Infantry. Who she was and the fate of the soldier who carried the image remain a mystery.

Paper. L 9.4, W 5.6 cm
Gettysburg National Military Park, GETT 42453:

photograph touched up and colorized @thecivilwarparlor S.Palmer


Today in History, July 30th, 1864, — The Battle of the Crater

In 1864, with the Union Army under the command of Gen.  Ulysses S. Grant, the Union went on the offensive in Northern Virginia in a attempt to capture the Confederate capitol of Richmond.  Despite fighting Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army to a standstill, Grant continued to press Lee’s left flank, keeping Lee on the defensive and pushing closer and closer to Richmond.  Then in early June the offensive came to a screeching halt when the Union Army attempted to take the City of Petersburg, a mere 23 miles away from Richmond.  The Confederates had turned Petersburg into a heavily armed fortress, with over ten miles of trenches complete with bunkers and anti infantry obstacles.  Despite a number of heavy assaults by Union forces, the Confederates were able to hold their ground.  Unable to decisively take Petersburg, Union forces dug their own trenches and built their own fortifications.  Foreshadowing the bloody combat tactics of World War I, both sides settled into trench warfare and bloody attrition.

In mid June the commander of the 48th Pennsylvania infantry offered a novel solution to the stalemate.  Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants was a mining engineer before he joined the army, and many of his men, recruited from Schuylkill County, PA were also coal miners.  Pleasant’s idea was to dig a tunnel under the Confederate fortifications, load it with explosives, then blast the Confederates straight to Hell in small pieces.  The resulting break in Confederate lines would leave their defenses vulnerable to a Union assault, thus ending the siege.

Digging of the tunnel began in late June and was completed by late July.  Once the tunnelers reached the Confederate lines, they dug another tunnel that ran parallel to the Confederate trenches above, thus making a “T” shape.  The main approach shaft was 511 feet long and located 50 feet below the ground.  Once the tunnel was completed, it was loaded with 320 kegs (8,000 lbs) of gunpowder.  On July 30th, 1864 the fuse was lit at 3:45 AM.  An hour later a massive explosion occurred amidst the Confederate lines.  The resulting explosion instantly obliterated 278 Confederate defenders, and left thousands of other in state of shock from the massive blast.  In the middle of the Confederate trenches was a large blast crater around 170 feet long and 30 feet deep.

To conduct the assault Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside chose the United States Colored Division and the US 1st Division.  Burnside trained his Colored Division for weeks in preparation for the battle, choosing them to be at the head of the assault.  The US Colored Division had by then gained a reputation as experienced and courageous veteran soldiers who could be counted upon to achieve the most daring and dangerous missions.  However, at the last minute, Gen. George Meade, Burnside’s boss, ordered the US 1st Division to the front, a unit with little experience and training.  Meade had little confidence in the plan, and didn’t want to waste the US Colored Division in a failed assault.

The plan was that when the two units approached the crater, one battalion was to go around the crater to the left, while the other was to go right.  When the inexperienced 1st Division approached the crater, they quickly occupied it, believing it to be the ideal rifle pit.  Meanwhile the men of the US Colored Division followed their orders and went around the massive pit.  The blame for the failed plan rested on the shoulders of the 1st Division’s commander, Brig. Gen. James H. Ledlie, who failed to brief his men on the assault, and spent much of the battle well behind the lines and drunk in his bunker.

After an hour the stunned Confederates rallied their forces and organized a counterattack against the Union assault.  Confederate troops surrounded the pit, which by then was a confused and panicked mass of men crowded shoulder to shoulder.  In what Confederate Brig. Gen. William Mahone would term “a turkey shoot”, the Confederates rained the pit with musket fire, grenades, artillery, and mortars.  The helpless soldiers trapped in the crowded pit could little defend themselves against the hail of Confederate lead.  If the suffering of the men trapped in the pit was bad, the fate of the Colored Division was even worse.  Without the support of the 1st Division, the Colored Division was quickly outnumbered and surrounded.  Many of the men were able to break free and retreat, however a number of regiments were forced to surrender.   Many Confederate officers, angered by the thought of former slaves fighting for the Union, gave orders to execute black soldiers and officers who surrendered.  Most of the black soldiers who surrendered at the Battle of the Crater were executed by bayonet on the spot.

Eventually a Union relief force was able to free the men trapped in the crater.  By the time battle had ended, Union forces suffered 3,798 casualties (504 killed 1,881 wounded, 1,413 missing or captured).  Confederate losses were also high, with a total of 1,491 casualties (361 killed,727 wounded, 403 missing or captured).  The Battle of the Crater turned out to be the Union most embarrassing defeat; an intricate and complex plan that was to bring about a surefire victory, failed because of bad leadership and a drunkard.  After the battle, Gen. Ambrose Burnside would receive most of the blame for the defeat, and was censured and relieved of his command and spent the rest of the war in a desk job.  He would later be cleared of fault by a war committee, who instead blamed Gen. Meade for the last minute substitution of the US Colored Division with the 1st Division.  Gen. Ledlie “The Drunkard” was charged with dereliction of duty and his commission was revoked.  

The Siege of Petersburg would last 9 months total, finally coming to an end on March 25th, 1865.  The fall of Petersburg left Richmond vulnerable, leading to its capture of Richmond on April 2nd.  Robert E. Lee then surrendered a week later.

Officer’s Tent-National Park Service-Gettysburg National Military Park

The colorful covered bag next to the trunk is a carpetbag that was used as a suitcase by civilians and soldiers alike. Major G. L. Smith of the 107th New York Volunteers carried his spirits in the open wooden whiskey chest.

Richard Jones, 201st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry used the small trunk during the war. Major Daniel Benner, 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, owned the larger trunk to the rear.

General Lee’s Headquarter’s staff is said to have used the cot to the rear of the tent. They used wool blankets like the one shown.

General Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters staff may have used the cot [GETT 6068] in the front.

Gettysburg National Military Park-